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Dissecting the Photo of Obama in the Situation Room

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"Taut and riveting, the photo takes the world inside history: Around a lacquered table in the Situation Room, the president and his team are watching a heart-pounding hunt for a killer, Osama bin Laden," reports the Associated Press. The picture, which the White House released early this week, has quickly become the iconic image that has defined the al Qaeda mastermind's capture and killing. Moreover, it could come to represent the greatest achievement of Obama's first term, depicting a moment of profound impact and heroism. "To whoever made the call to use this photo on the front of today's Times: take a bow," proclaims Jon Bernstein at NewStatesman.

While some have turned the photo into a meme, others have reflected on its significance, particularly President Obama's and Hillary Clinton's expressions. "This is probably how you want the commander-in-chief to look at that moment," says Slate's Dave Weigel. Clinton, however, revealed on Thursday that she may have just been holding back a cough. Here, a roundup of the most astute and insightful comments from around the web:

Joel Achenbach, the Washington Post: "There's something shockingly bland and ordinary about the setting. The room looks small. The people -- powerful though they may be -- are free of the obvious trappings of power (except for the uniformed brigadier general at the head of the table). Most are dressed fairly casually, including Obama, who wears a windbreaker over a golf shirt. If anything, they look pretty powerless, forced to wait for the outcome, unable to do a damn thing about it. They're spectators."

David Brooks, The New York Times: "The first thing the photo illustrates is that whenever we disagree with an office holder, we should all nonetheless pay them a large dose of respect. Presidents and others make these horrific decisions that could lead to death and suffering for people thousands of miles away, and then they sit passively far removed from the action, hoping that things turn out right. On a human level I'm struck by the varied emotions etched on people's faces. I can read nothing on Bob Gates's face or even Joe Biden's, whereas Obama, Denis McDonough and John Brennan look tense. Hilary Clinton's face is the most riveting, a mixture of anxiety, dread and concern. I suspect most people will relate to her expression."

Scott Hall, director of photography, Newsweek, quoted by wwd.com: "What's most interesting to me about this photo is what you're not seeing. The mystery of what's happening off camera is captured wholly in the expression on Hillary's face. The events of 9/11 unfolded before our eyes, but those of 5/1 leave much to the imagination."

Hank Stuever, quoted in The Washington Post: "We enjoy narratives of great power because we have so little power in our own lives over things such as errant buses, disease, death and the vicissitudes of love. The photo reveals that sometimes even people who seem to have invested in them the talent and power to be masters of their fate are frightened, worried, tense and uncertain. And so by excluding us from the world of one kind of power, the photo reminds of a more fundamental powerlessness. It keeps us out of one room but puts us all in another, from which there is no exit."